Cablegate: Tien Giang Police Protest Recent Fraud Unit Visit to Their

DE RUEHHM #0686/01 2071041
R 251041Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) Hanoi 557 and previous (B) 2007 HCMC 1064 and previous (C) Hanoi 835

HO CHI MIN 00000686 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) Summary: On July 23, the Ho Chi Minh City External
Relations Office (ERO) Deputy Director Nguyen Vu Tu asked to
meet with the CG and other consulate staff to discuss a recent
fraud investigation undertaken by the Consular Section's Fraud
Prevention Unit (FPU). According to the ERO, Ministry of Public
Security (MPS) officials have vehemently complained at a senior
level in Hanoi as well as in HCMC that the informant with whom
our Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) met is a known land rights
activist in Tien Giang province. As a result of MPS'
complaints, no FPU travel to Tien Giang province will being
approved at least until the ERO submits its own report. Post
replied to ERO that the MPS report contained various obvious
inaccuracies and that the only reason FPU met with these
individuals was to discuss allegations of consular fraud, which
was the only topic they discussed. No one in ConGen HCMC's
political section has previously heard of these individuals as
being land rights activists. We also note that based upon the
partial read-out of the MPS report provided by ERO, the report
contains numerous factual inaccuracies that appear designed to
raise concerns and promote an anti-American agenda. End

2. (SBU) The fraud investigation in question took place on June
16, 2008, and involved allegations of marriage fraud related to
an immigrant visa case. The FPU had received three signed
letters from an informant stating that the family of the visa
beneficiary had paid the petitioner in the U.S. US$ 30,000 to
enter into a fake marriage. The informant also called the FPU
and provided a phone number and expressed willingness to meet
with Consulate staff to discuss the case. Upon arriving in Tien
Giang province to conduct a field investigation, the FPM and
Fraud Unit locally engaged staff (LES) contacted the informant
and agreed to meet at a local cafe. As is standard for such
fraud investigations, local MPS officers followed the FPM and
LES to the cafe. Shortly after arriving at the cafe, the
informant arrived with two other individuals and discussed the
case with the FPM for approximately ten minutes, after which the
informant departed the cafe. The FPM and LES waited at the cafe
until the MPS officers departed, and then also departed. Per our
understanding with the Ho Chi Minh City External Relations
office, the FPM notified local ERO officials that she and the
LES had met with the informant at a local cafe.

3. (SBU) On the evening of July 17, the HCMC ERO office
contacted via cell phone the LES who had been on the trip, and
asked several questions regarding the field investigation.
Specifically, the ERO official asked if the FPM and LES had met
someone at a local cafe, and if they had discussed anything
other than the visa case. The ERO official then said that he had
received a complaint from the MPS in Tien Giang province
regarding the trip, and wanted to verify certain facts before
writing a report. According to the ERO official, the three
people who had come to the cafe were the ringleaders of a land
rights protest which had recently taken place at the People's
Committee's office in Ho Chi Minh City. The LES told the ERO
official that she and the FPM had only discussed the visa case
with the informant, and at no time during the ten minute
conversation were issues regarding land rights or other
sensitive matters raised.

4. (SBU) At the July 23 meeting with the CG, ERO Deputy Director
Nguyen Vu Tu recounted the above incident, and emphasized that
the people with whom the FPM and LES met had been identified in
a subsequent MPS report as known land rights activists. He said
that according to the report he had received from the Tien Giang
MPS, the informant had been "invited" to the Consulate to
discuss land rights issues, and that during the June fraud
investigation to Tien Giang consulate staff had switched cars in
an attempt to confuse local MPS officials. CG made it clear that
these allegations are entirely false. No one in the Consulate's
Political or Exec officer recognized any of the names prior to
the trip. (Comment: HCMC's Pol Section has since been able to
verify via conversations with other contacts that one of the
three is associated with the land rights movement.) CG went on
to clarify that the FPU did not invite any of the three to the
Consulate and that the only topic discussed by FPU staff was
visa fraud. Similarly, the FPU team did not switch cars or
undertake any other steps to evade the MPS plain clothes
surveillance officials who follow their every move.

5. (SBU) CG explained the background of the fraud case, and the
fact that while the Consulate FPU receives many "poison pen"
letters regarding visa cases, it is unusual that the letters are
signed or that the informant is willing to talk to our staff.
The CG reiterated that in this case the purpose of the trip was

HO CHI MIN 00000686 002.2 OF 003

simply to acquire additional information from the informant
regarding a possible fake marriage, and that no other issues
were discussed. Citing inaccuracies in the MPS report, the CG
went on to say that such allegations call into question the
credibility of the entire MPS report. Finally, the CG said that
the people with whom the FPM met with had never been invited to
the Consulate to discuss land issues. To demonstrate that the
purpose of the meeting in Tien Giang was only to discuss a visa
fraud, the CG provided copies of the letters the informant had
sent to the FPU. Mr. Tu was not surprised by the CG's response
and candidly explained that the overall thrust of the MPS report
was that this incident is "proof" that the "true purpose" of FPU
trips is to stir up anti-GVN unrest.

6. (SBU) The ERO asked that we provide the names of the three
individuals who met the FPM and LES in the cafe, and suggested
that on future fraud investigation trips that the FPM meets with
informants at the residence of the informant. He also said that
until this matter is cleared up, permission for our FPM to
conduct field investigations in Tien Giang province would not be

7. (SBU) Ref A and the numerous previous cables to which it
refers provide an overview of the long history of the dispute
over ConGen HCMC's Consular District. The status quo that has
existed since the Consulate opened is the USG recognizes ConGen
HCMC's area of responsibility as extending from Thua-Thien Hue
province in Central Vietnam to Ca Mau province at the country's
far southern tip. The GVN, in contrast, recognizes the
Consulate and its officers being as accredited to Ho Chi Minh
City only. (Note: Because HCMC is a "special city," the GVN
equates this one-city designation with being the same as
recognizing a Consular District of one U.S. state. End Note.)
Any travel Consulate officers undertake to destinations outside
of HCMC is therefore considered to be "out of Consular District"
and may only be undertaken subject to advance notification and
approval from the GVN. Consulate officers must submit DipNotes
at least five work days in advance of travel listing the entire
itinerary in detail and complete contact information for every
person and group -- whether official or private -- that the
officer(s) plan to speak to during the travel.

8. (SBU) Because the advance notification requirements imposed
by the GVN were rendering travel by HCMC's Consular Fraud Unit
worthless (since someone was clearly warning every subject of
"surprise" inspections), in early 2008 the Consulate reached an
agreement with the ERO under which FPU staff do not have to list
the exact name, address and phone number of every person to be
visited. Instead, they only list the exact province and
neighborhood. MPS (security) personnel routinely follow FPU
staff during investigations and interview all subjects after
they have spoken with the FPU, but they do not interfere in the
interviews. While subjects of FPU investigations are still
sometimes warned in advance of the pending arrival of the FPU,
this is the exception rather than the rule and we suspect that
local security personnel are simply able to guess the subject
based on the neighborhood and then tip subjects off in exchange
for kick-backs. To convince the MPS to allow this somewhat
relaxed travel approval process (compared to the full
notification required for political, economic and other travel)
following a notorious incident of MPS harassment in An Gian
province last October (ref B), the CG agreed that FPU staff
would only undertake consular investigations while on FPU trips
and would not combine consular fraud trips with political
reporting or other activities.

9. (SBU) Political, economic and other non-FPU travel remain
subject to the stricter notification requirements. In the early
years of the Consulate's operation, ConGen HCMC personnel
sometimes traveled without providing notification or without
waiting for formal approval. In recent years, however, this
procedure was abandoned because making such trips without prior
approval invariably led to reactions that ranged from
cancellation of meetings to literally kicking people out of
their hotel in the middle of the night. Trips taken without
prior approval were rarely a success and could be dangerous. In
addition, everyone that Consulate staff interacted with while on
"unauthorized" trips was subsequently subjected to questioning
or even detention by VN security personnel. We know from our
more sympathetic interlocutors in the GVN that the MPS routinely
reported these trips as "proof" that the Consulate was fomenting
rebellion by organizing "networks of anti-government agitators."
To maintain the safety and security of both our staff and our
contacts, and to prevent actions by one section or agency from
having negative repercussions on the work of other
sections/agencies, ConGen HCMC staff now strictly follow the the

HO CHI MIN 00000686 003.2 OF 003

GVN unilaterally-imposed five-day notification rule for travel
outside of the city.

10. (SBU) In practice, the five-day notification rule usually
amounts to little more than an onerous paperwork exercise for
ConGen staff. Since Consulate Officers are followed by plain
clothes MPS observers at all times, we are not divulging
anything by providing the names of individuals with whom we will
meet. Permission to travel is sometimes denied, however, with
no explanation given. In addition, most of the Consulate's
contacts are interviewed by VN security personnel before and/or
after meetings with ConGen officers, but this level of
interference would likely take place whether or not we provided
details in advance. As noted above, failure to provide details
generally makes the interrogation more severe. Any unscheduled
stop, including a restroom break, will often cause a
plainclothes security officer to approach the vehicle and
inquire why the car is stopping.

11. (SBU) Even the limited insights into the contents of the MPS
report that ERO HCMC provided to us are sufficient to show that
the MPS report contains factually incorrect exaggerations such
as the allegation that the FPU staff switched cars to elude
their MPS watchers or invited interlocutors to the Consulate.
Given this apparent willingness to play fast and loose with the
truth, we decided to verify the MPS claim that FPU met with land
rights protestors. While none of our Political or Economic
staff had heard of any of the three individuals, phone checks
with contacts verified that one of the three people who attended
the meeting is indeed connected to the land rights movement.
Despite this grain of truth in the MPS allegations, we find them
both insulting and disturbing and agree with the ERO's candid
admission that the MPS report was written with the goal of
inhibiting future travel by the FPU. This desire by
provincial-level MPS to restrict FPU (and perhaps other)
Consular travel is problematic and needs to be borne in mind as
we move forward with bilateral discussions of the HCMC Consular
District, a possible future APP in Danang and the GVN's own
desire to open a Consulate General in Houston (and possibly
elsewhere) and to begin processing visas in New York.

12. (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED: It is also worth emphasizing that
the first contacts on this case were not via official channels
to American officers but in direct evening and weekend calls to
our dedicated local Vietnamese fraud prevention staff. Direct
calls to staff at their homes and on weekends, including with
direct or veiled threats, are distressingly common at ConGen
HCMC. This type of harassment has driven some employees to quit
or transfer although most, thankfully, tough it out. For LES
staff who do not cooperate with request for "informal"
information on the activities and conversations of Consulate
officers, the pressure can extend to family members, including
parents, spouses and even children in school. We are quite
lucky to have such dedicated, professional Vietnamese staff who
continue to do their best even in the face of such intimidation.
Unfortunately, as documented in a recent first-person message
from the Ambassador (ref C), the combination of rampant
inflation and nearly stagnant wages mean that our Vietnamese
staff are increasingly having to deal with economic hardships in
addition to political harassment. As the Ambassador noted in
ref C, "the proposed 2008 salary increases determined by the
2007 survey will now be considered by our LES employees
laughable at best, insulting at worst."

13. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

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